There’s a scene in the great Jimmy Stewart film “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” where members of the press encourage Smith to make bird calls eventually snapping an unflattering image using it to demean the freshman Senator in the papers the very next day.
Although the film is fictitious, the issue of being misrepresented by the press at times is very real.
This is not the case for current Member of Congress, Loretta Sanchez, who only last Thursday announced her bid to replace California’s representative in the U.S. Senate, Barbara Boxer.
Sanchez was caught on video using a native-American gesture associated with Indian war cries. Congresswoman Sanchez made the motion at a private meeting during the California Democratic Convention in Anaheim on Saturday to try and explain to supporters gathered her confusion during a recent situation wherein she thought she was meeting with an Indian-American (Whaw, Whaw, Whaw as she indicated verbally) but who instead turned out to be an Indo-American constituent.
The video of the buffoonery went viral within minutes of the gaffe. A news crew spotted and chased the Congresswoman to obtain a response to criticism she had offended native-Americans. Sanchez ran wildly by the reporter with nothing to say other than an outburst of “hey!, hey!, hey!”
The next day Sanchez decried the madness of taking several meetings earlier in the day revved her up and she made an off-the-cuff mistake noting all humans make mistakes especially those who are tasked with the hard job of leading day-in and day-out.
This mistake, however, had little to do with leadership skills and everything to do with common sense flaws.
As a leader, it’s the congresswoman’s job to protect individuals from demeaning and racially insensitive actions such as the one she performed on Saturday. As an individual, it’s up to her to display common sense when trying to communicate with supporters to rouse them into action, in this case with a non-relevant campaign story.
Congresswoman Sanchez’s actions were inappropriate on a variety of levels. She used inflammatory gestures to get cheap laughs from her supporters at the cost of disparaging a race of people. She fled when she had a chance to respond directly and immediately to the video and its content. And she tried to hide behind lines of rhetoric by saying native-Americans know something about her most people, including her constituents, don’t: She’s part native-American on her mother’s side. This in addition to stating “native-Americans know I got their back…”
Note to the Congresswoman: You are supposed to have everyone’s “back”, or best interests in mind, as an elected official. You don’t just represent those who voted for you, you represent everyone who lives in your district.
This leads me back to my Mr. Smith intro.
In the case of Mr. Smith, he eventually sought revenge for the misrepresentation put out by the media by beating up members of the press who were goading him on the day earlier. In the case of Ms. Sanchez, she really only has herself to beat up for her public display and actions.
Mario A. Guerra is the former mayor of Downey and president of Independent Cities Association representing 50 cities and more than 7 million residents. He can be reached at MarioAGuerra.com